30 million jobs lost so far, but many workers can’t access unemployment benefits
Protesters demonstrate about the Florida unemployment debacle as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses how to safely re-open Florida salons with small business owners during a roundtable at OhSoooJazzy Hair Salon in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday, May 2, 2020. | Alex Menendez via AP

WASHINGTON—Another 3.84 million people filed for jobless benefits nationwide in the prior week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on April 30. That shoots the actual number of jobless due to closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic to over 30 million.

The Economic Policy Institute warns that 30 million total may actually be an undercount. Its survey of jobless people in the weeks before last week found 40% of those seeking to claim benefits from the various states couldn’t get through as the creaky unemployment systems were overloaded and crashed.

BLS’s figure was seasonally adjusted, but the actual number of claims in the week ending April 25 was 3.49 million. That’s 792,000 fewer claims than the week of April 18. But BLS also used a base of 145.79 million people in the workforce, and 30 million is more than 20% of that. BLS says, however, the “seasonally adjusted” figure—not the actual number of jobless claims—is just short of 20 million.

Michigan (21.8%) and Vermont (21.2%) now exceed the reported national jobless rate, BLS said. They’re followed by Connecticut and Pennsylvania (18.5%), Nevada (16.8%), Rhode Island (16.7%), and Washington state (16%). Nevada’s entire Las Vegas strip, which is highly unionized, is shut down, and 90-95% of Unite Here’s local members there are jobless, the union says.

EPI says even 30 million reported jobless may be too low.

An unemployed worker looks at the State of Michigan unemployment site, April 29, 2020, in Detroit. As of late April, over 30 million Americans had filed unemployment claims | Carlos Osorio / AP

“Millions of the newly jobless are going without benefits as the unemployment system buckles under the weight of new claims, according to our new national survey, conducted in mid-April,” EPI senior analysts Elise Gould and Ben Zipperer reported.

“For every 10 people who said they successfully filed for unemployment benefits during the previous four weeks, three to four additional people tried to apply but could not get through the system to make a claim and two additional people did not try to apply because it was too difficult to do so.”

Which means, they added, that only “half of potential unemployment insurance applicants are actually receiving benefits.”

The system needs basic reforms, Gould and Zipperer declared, starting with a change to a new basic assumption: That everyone who seeks benefits is jobless and deserves them, rather than having to prove they’re jobless before getting any cash. Proof can wait until later, “when the flood of claims slows down,” they added.

For the week of April 18, the most recent state-by-state data, that flood continued in Florida, which saw 326,251 more residents seek jobless benefits than did so in the week ending April 11. The next four states with rising numbers of claims—Connecticut, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Texas, in that order—had an increase of just over 119,000 new claims, combined.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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